Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, react as the royal car is attacked by protesters in London. Photograph: Matt Dunham/APDavid Cameron
today promised the full force of the law would be used on the “mob” who attacked a car carrying Prince Charles
and his wife, Camilla, and smashed property in central London last night, while student leaders hit back, claiming protesters had suffered police
Mark Bergfeld, of the Education Activist Network, claimed demonstrators had suffered “horrendous” conditions as they were kettled for up to 10 hours and said the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were just in “the wrong place at the wrong time”.
“There was police brutality,” he said. “I saw 14-year-olds carry out their friends with cracked heads and things like that.
“I saw that people were being kettled until 1am on Westminster bridge. They were held there without toilet facilities, without water or food for 10 hours. We don’t live in that kind of regime.”
Cameron and the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, said more than a small number of people were involved in violence during and after a Commons vote paving the way for a trebling of university tuition fees.
The prime minister admitted concerns over royal security must be addressed, but said the responsibility for violence lay with the protesters.
“We want to learn the lessons from that but, above all, we want to make sure that the people who behaved in these appalling ways feel the full force of the law of the land … There were quite a number of people who clearly were there wanting to pursue violence and to destroy property.”
Attacks on the Treasury, supreme court and other buildings in central London left the Met facing questions about again losing control of the streets during a demonstration. It also faced questions about some officers being heavy handed, and the kettling of peaceful protesters. A total of 33 arrests were made.
An awful 24 hours for the police continued this morning with the announcement of an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation into the case of a 20-year-old student who was apparently struck by a truncheon and left unconscious with bleeding on the brain.
Alfie Meadows, a philosophy student at Middlesex University, has undergone a three-hour operation. His mother said he was hit by police as he tried to leave the area outside Westminster Abbey and lost consciousness on the way to hospital.
Susan Meadows, 55, an English literature lecturer at Roehampton University, said: “He was hit on the head by a police truncheon … he’s got tubes coming out of him everywhere. He will be in hospital for quite a while, it was a very major thing.”
Speaking outside No 10, Cameron condemned the “completely unacceptable” behaviour of protesters. “It is no good saying this was a very small minority. It was not. There were quite a number of people who clearly were there wanting to pursue violence and to destroy property.
“I know that the Metropolitan police commissioner is going to be working hard to report on this. I also know, quite rightly, he will look into the regrettable incident where the Prince of Wales and his wife were nearly attacked by this mob. We want to learn the lessons from that.”
The attack on the royal car was not the fault of the police, he said. “This was the fault of people who tried to smash up that car.”
His remarks came after Stephenson said that armed officers protecting the royal couple showed enormous restraint and condemned the “thugs” involved in violence.
The commissioner said the attack on the royal car was a “hugely shocking incident and there will be a full criminal investigation” but added that “short of locking everything down” police had to try to find a balance between allowing protest and stopping violence.
He praised his officers and the royal protection officers for their actions in coping with a “very unpredictable demonstration … and very difficult night” and said they showed enormous restraint in the most difficult of circumstances.
“The route was thoroughly recced in advance, including up to several minutes beforehand when the route was still clear.
“The unpredictability of thugs and how they moved about the capital meant the protection officers were placed in a very difficult position.”
He said kettling and other police tactics did not contribute to the violence. “It is an excuse people are hiding behind … People need to be responsible for their own behaviour,” he said, adding that a significant number of protesters had behaved reprehensibly.
He denied the police operation had been “undercooked” and said it had involved nearly 3,000 officers.
Dozens of protesters and a number of officers were injured. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, blamed a “large number of agitators who were determined to cause the maximum possible trouble and provocation and they succeeded”.
He said a balance had to be struck between allowing protest and proportionate policing, saying the country could have a “different system”, using watercannon and harsher police tactics that would have left “more broken heads this morning”.
Charles and Camilla’s car was surrounded by a mob as it drove down Regent Street on the way to a Royal Variety performance, with protesters kicking at the doors and shattering a rear window.
The protesters had spilled into the West End after an initially peaceful demonstration outside parliament deteriorated and spread.
Witnesses described how about 400 to 500 protesters were on Regent Street when the royal car was attacked. Charles and Camilla were visibly shaken but unharmed after demonstrators set upon the vehicle with fists, boots and bottles, chanting “Off with their heads” and “Tory scum”.
Video footage posted on YouTube suggested the rear window was lowered as protestors surrounded the car but it was unclear whether Camilla, Charles or the driver was responsible.
Media reports that Camilla was prodded in the chest by a stick could not be confirmed. Today Charles and Camilla praised the efforts of police. A Clarence House spokesman said they understood the difficulties the police faced and were grateful for the job they did in “very challenging circumstances”.
In other developments today, Charlie Gilmour, son of Pink Floyd guitarist David, apologised for climbing the Cenotaph during the protests, saying he “would like to express his deepest apologies for the terrible insult to the thousands of people who died bravely for our country”.
The National Union of Students distanced itself from at least part of its London membership, pointing out that London University’s student union had organised the demonstration in Parliament Square while the NUS held a rally on Victoria Embankment. The NUS president, Aaron Porter, said violent action was deplorable but it would continue to organise peaceful protest.
Clare Solomon, president of London University’s student union, called the NUS leadership a disgrace. “They should have backed this demonstration. They are clearly out of touch,” she said.
The NUS had paid thousands of pounds for “a glow-stick vigil”, attracting 200 people, she said, when her union had spent hundreds on a protest that involved 35,000.
Solomon said it was hypocritical for people in the Tory party and others who voted for the war in Iraq to say that “this is violence when people are breaking windows as opposed to killing people”.
The police should also take some responsibility, she said. “They were the ones beating us up and putting us in hospital when we were attempting to peacefully protest.”